Pennsylvania Logger Makes Cut-to-length Work

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Risley equipment Rolly II processing head is focus of operations for Ray Bange Logging in South Central Pa.

McCONNELLSBURG, Pennsylvania — Ray Bange laughs when he remembers the reaction to the cut-to-length logging
methods he introduced to harvesting timber near his home in south-central Pennsylvania.

“I had quite a few old-timers come out early on to see what I was doing,” he recalled. “They said they wanted to get out and see my operation early because they figured I’d be bankrupt and gone if they waited too long.”

Ray persisted, however. With much prayer and the blessing of God, he said, his revamped logging business has prospered and survived. In fact, he has become a sought-after contractor in his region and cannot keep up with the demand for his services.

The key to his company is a Risley Equipment Rolly II processing head, which is mounted on a John Deere 653 G track carrier. His cut-to-length logging operations are much easier on the land than tree-length logging, recover more wood, and can harvest smaller tracts effectively — and profitably. In addition, with this control-style head, he is able to minimize damage to residual trees.

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That kind of performance has timber owners calling Ray for work. Some even offer below-market stumpage rates if he will do the job. The equipment has made him more profitable, more efficient, and better able to meet the requirements of owners of small tracts of timber.

Ray and his wife, Margaret, had a trucking business in Delaware in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They grew tired, however, of working hard but dealing with customers who paid their bills late or not in full. They sold the business and moved to Florida in 1982. “One Sunday at church, one of the men asked if I’d like to help out in the woods,” Ray said. He had worked as a John Deere mechanic for a couple of years when he was younger, so Ray had no trouble catching on to the work. Soon he was operating a feller-buncher.

Ray quickly proved himself in the logging industry, and soon a timber company assisted him with financing so he could invest in machinery and go into business as one of its contractors. He specialized in harvesting long logs. His company was going well until a boiler blew up in the paper mill where he delivered his wood. He and other loggers were suddenly left short of work, going from delivering 35 loads a week to 8-12 loads.

As one door closed for the Bange family, another opened. Ray’s brother encouraged the couple to move to Pennsylvania, and Ray soon was in touch with the P.H. Glatfelter Company, which has a paper mill and large timber holdings. “They had purchased a lot of land in the 1960s and planted it to pine,” said Ray. “They wanted to harvest it using progressive harvesting techniques, but no one in the area was using mechanized harvesting. We quickly came to agreement that if I would bring my equipment up and log, they would guarantee me a year’s worth of work.”

The arrangement has ended up being a long-term business relationship. Ray has continued to work for the company almost constantly since their initial association in 1994.

Ray decided about 18 months ago that it was time to look at new technology for his company. Although his logging operations were already mechanized, tree-length logging was still somewhat labor-intensive. “It is very difficult to find good help and then keep them,” said Ray.

In addition, he has always been interested in improving himself in his trade. “I like to find better ways to do things,” he said. “And I try to keep pretty new equipment…I started looking around, trying to decide what might allow me to do a better job for my customers here.”

Ray’s search led him to investigate cut-to-length logging, a technique nearly unknown in his region of Pennsylvania. He decided to visit the upper Mid-West, an area where cut-to-length logging has become well respected and much utilized. During the trip he met Ron Beauchamp, the owner of Woodland Equipment, a dealer that supplies harvesting equipment to loggers in the Northeast and Mid-West.

The two men began a relationship that has had a profound effect on Ray’s company. Ron later visited Ray in Pennsylvania to look over the kind of timber he was harvesting and educated him on what could be expected from cut-to-length logging equipment. Woodland Equipment is one of the oldest Risley dealers in the U. S., and Ron had considerable experience with the technology, having sold a significant number of heads throughout the Midwest. (Risley has several other U.S.-based dealers, as well, and its equipment is at work at many locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.) Ray was impressed with Ron and his expertise.

Ray decided to try cut-to-length logging. Instead of buying a processing head from Ron, though, he decided to buy a used one from another dealer who had one readily available. He reasoned like this. Although he usually buys new equipment or used equipment with few hours on it, since Ray was trying cut-to-length for the first time, he elected to test the concept with low-cost equipment. He bought a used John Deere 653 with a processor head on it that had in excess of 8,500 hours of use. The trial run of cut-to-length still amounted to a considerable risk. Ray used a FabTek 546 B forwarder to get the wood out of the forest.

Ray experienced immediate positive results even though the old head was not capable of doing everything he needed. Converting to only two machines reduced his labor costs. In his region of Pennsylvania, tree-length logging typically was done with a feller-buncher, skidders, pull-through delimbers and slashers. The combination can be effective, but like any technology, Ray noted, it has its limitations. The primary drawback, from Ray’s point of view, was the need for three or four employees to run the machines. “With the processing head,” he said, “I was doing half the work myself. Labor costs, as well as the difficulty of finding, training, and keeping good people, become less of an issue.”

In addition, there were other important benefits to Ray’s customers that they quickly saw and appreciated: reductions in ground disturbance, the need for logging roads, and damage to residual trees.

The old processing head required more maintenance than Ray wanted to put into it, and it was somewhat limited in measuring accuracy and flexibility. However, the concept of cut-to-length had proven its worth to Ray — and more importantly, to his customers. He decided to go back to the drawing board and improve further.

When he first began to explore the technology, Ron had convinced him that cut-to-length logging could be applied successfully to Ray’s business. Ron also introduced Ray to Risley Equipment’s line of harvester and processor heads. Looking to upgrade his machinery, Ray made another trip to Michigan. After consulting with Ron, Ray invested in a Risley Equipment Rolly II harvester head. “It had the options I thought I needed to maximize my operations in the Pennsylvania forest,” he said. Ray also invested in a John Deere 653 G and had it shipped to Woodland Equipment for the Risley head to be mounted on it.

“Woodland Equipment treated me incredibly well,” said Ray. “After they’d mounted the head, they had my wife and me up there. They not only treated us great, they made sure I understood everything I could about the machine.”

Ray was particularly impressed with Woodland’s in-house training facility. He did not have any experience with computers, nor did he understand how it was integrated with the processing head. Woodland has a training facility that helps the operator of the Rolly II learn how the computer and software work with the processing head. Ray’s experience in the training facility was coupled with training in the field, operating a processing head under actual conditions with an opportunity afterward to confer with Woodland’s experts. The Risley Rolly II processor did everything that Ron told Ray it would do. With Woodland’s expertise and training, Ray could make it perform to its capabilities.

In deciding on a processor head, Risley Equipment addressed four things of primary importance to Ray. First, in the hardwood forest, a good deal of wood can be recovered from trees with multiple tops or other deformities. Risley’s Geared Rotate Control (GRC) system allows the operator to rotate the head, which increases its effectiveness. For example, a large hardwood log may have a big limb; by rotating the head, the limb can be cut off without damaging either piece of wood, and both can be processed further as saw logs or pulp wood.

Another important issue to Ray was measuring accuracy. His old head, faced with the problem of a knot near the cutting point, would overshoot it, making close tolerances difficult or impossible. The Risley Rolly II processing head has proven to be accurate within about a half-inch. “I have some customers who are willing to pay a premium for certain kinds of logs,” explained Ray, “but only if they are
accurately cut to specified lengths. I can provide that accuracy with the Risley Rolly II head.”

Risley’s system for moving the log through the processor was also superior to Ray’s old unit. The old head, once activated, went to full speed immediately; the Rolly II ramps up to speed, albeit in a fraction of a second. The timing is important, Ray said, because it reduces damage to some of the most valuable fiber in the tree. The on-off full speed action of the old head caused slippage that would damage bark and wood. The Rolly II eliminates slippage and the resulting damage.

The fourth important issue to Ray was Risley’s design for the head, which placed hoses and fittings out of harm’s way to a large extent, reducing maintenance. The old head had hoses and fittings hanging on both sides of the boom; they were easily damaged on an unseen knot or limb. The design of the Risley Rolly II head puts only four hoses running along the boom, and all are located on the same side and in clear view of the operator. “I’ve got 250 hours on the new unit and haven’t had to replace a hose yet,” said Ray.

As a cut-to-length logger, Ray’s services were immediately in demand. The Army Corps of Engineers contracted with him for cutting in environmentally sensitive areas around one of the region’s large lakes. Penn State University contracted with him for harvesting. In fact, both would like him working full-time on their projects.

Ray is modest about the success he has achieved. He gives much of the credit to Ron and Woodland Equipment as well as to Risley Equipment and its Rolly II processing head. Despite the distance between Pennsylvania and Michigan, Woodland Equipment’s support has been first rate, said Ray.

The new head has enabled Ray to get more sellable wood fiber out of the forest at better prices. And the environmental benefits have spurred demand for Ray’s services. “This is a technology who’s day has come,” he said.